The Depraved Appetite of Tarrare the Freak: An Interview with Tobi Poster

Featuring over twenty puppets, a male soprano, virtuosic musicians and a thrilling original score by internationally renowned pianist and composer Tom Poster, The Depraved Appetite of Tarrare the Freak tells the extraordinary true story of one man’s quest to be human in a world that sees him as a monster.  I sat down with the show’s creator, writer and lead puppeteer, Tobi Poster, to find out where this crazy idea came from and the show’s forthcoming tour in Spring 2017.

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Photo: Barney Witts

Autopsies, amputated limbs, dead cats, international espionage and opera?!  How on earth did you come up with this as an idea for a puppetry show?

I found this incredible true story while lost on Wikipedia. My first thought was ‘how come no-one has ever turned this into a puppet opera?’  It seemed like such rich, fascinating source material, which somehow needed to be told through puppetry and music. It’s this grotesque, larger-than-life narrative, which somehow still manages to be very affecting on a human level.

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Photo: Guy Sanders

Wattle & Daub’s background is very much in devised and collaborative work, which I think definitely affected the way we approached the libretto and music. Myself and the composer ,Tom Poster, were writing music throughout what was partly a devising process, led by Laura Purcell-Gates and later by the director Sita Calvert-Ennals.  So we’d be responding to what had happened in development that week, or to discussions with story collaborator Hattie Naylor, or Dr Alan Bates, our pathology consultant – who really helped us get the feel of the autopsy, both in action and music.

Because we have two singers voicing a number of characters, Tom was particularly conscious of creating distinct soundscapes for each character, as well as making use of some of the more unusual parts of their vocal ranges.  It’s a different work than we would have created if we had been writing for human performers.

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Photo: Barney Witts

I was lucky enough to see a performance at the Bristol Festival of Puppetry 2015.  I’m looking forward to seeing how the production has evolved since then for the new tour in Spring 2017.  Where can I catch the show and what hopes do you have for the tour? 

We’ve mainly been exploring the framing of the piece, though I’m excited to get back in the rehearsal room and see what else we can discover.  We’re really pleased to be bringing it back to Tobacco Factory Theatres, who have been a vital part of the development of the show. We’re also delighted to be bringing it for a 3 week run to Wilton’s Music Hall, which feels like a perfect space for this multi-disciplinary work, as well as the North Wall and Bath Spa Live.

We’re looking forward to really bedding the show in over a longer run and getting the work out there. The response has been so strong including from people who didn’t think they liked opera or puppetry, which is so gratifying to hear.  However, perhaps the responses I’m most looking forward to are the visceral responses of disgust we always seem to get in certain moments..!

Interview by Emma Windsor


‘The Depraved Appetite of Tarrare the Freak ‘ will go on tour in early 2017 and will be at venues nationwide including, the Tobacco Factory Theatre, Bristol (25 – 28 Jan) ; Wiltons, London (30 Jan – 18 Feb) ; The North Wall, Oxford (08-09 March) and the Michael Tippet Centre – Bath Spa Live, Bath (10 March 2017).  For more information about the show, visit Wattle & Daub’s website at: http://www.wattleanddaub.co.uk

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